Omega-3 fats can help lower your risk for heart disease, and flax meal and fish oil are two of the sources for these essential fatty acids. However, flax meal and fish oil provide different types of omega-3 fats and thus have different benefits for your health. As with any supplement, check with your doctor before adding these to your diet since they can interfere with some medications and cause side effects.
Flax meal provides fiber as well as lignans, which are plant chemicals that have antioxidant and estrogen-like properties. While both flax meal and fish oil contain omega-3 fats, flax meal contains alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, while fish oil contains docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, which are the two omega-3 fats that provide the most benefits. Your body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but the conversion is inefficient, so it takes a lot of ALA to provide the recommended 500 milligrams per day of EPA and DHA. Fish oil doesn't provide any dietary fiber, so it doesn't help you get your recommended 25 grams of fiber per day like flax meal does, and it doesn't contain lignans.
Flax meal may be beneficial if you suffer from diabetes, since it may help lower your A1C levels, which is a measure of your average blood sugar level over the past few months. Fish oil doesn't help lower blood sugar levels, although it helps lower a type of blood fat called triglycerides that people with Type 2 diabetes tend to have too much of. Having high triglycerides increases your heart disease risk.
Heart Disease Risk
The omega-3 fats in fish oil are more beneficial in preventing heart disease than those found in flax meal, according to an article published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in July 2006. However, this doesn't mean that flax meal isn't beneficial for lowering heart disease risk. An article published in November 2009 in "The Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology" found that the lignan in flax meal helps lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, while raising high-density lipoprotein, or good cholesterol. Flax also helps lower blood pressure and prevents clogging of your arteries, both of which help lower heart disease risk.
If you eat a lot of foods that contain omega-6 fats, such as those made with corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower or cottonseed oil, you may cancel out the benefits from consuming omega-3 fats from flax meal or fish oil, according to an article published in "Diabetes Forecast" in February 2009. Many Americans get way more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats. These fats compete with each other, so you want to limit the amount of omega-6 fats you get and increase the amount of omega-3 fats you consume. Taking fish oil supplements helps restore the proper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats better than consuming flax, according to a study published in "Reproductive Nutrition Development" in 2005.
- Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology: Flaxseed and Cardiovascular Health
- MedlinePlus: Flaxseed
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Flaxseed
- MedlinePlus: Fish Oil
- Reproduction Nutrition Development: Effect of Randomized Supplementation With High Dose Olive, Flax or Fish Oil on Serum Phospholipid Fatty Acid Levels in Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Diabetes Forecast: The A-to-Z of Omega-3
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.